January 14, 2002
News Flash: Luuuuuub .... Duuuuubya
IMPORTANT ADMINISTRATIVE NOTICE
Topica.com is no longer managing the JOHO mailing list. I love Topica and the people there have been great, from top to bottom. But, they not unreasonably need to collect demographic data from people using the list in order to continue to provide the service for free. I'm not comfortable asking people to give away that information in order to subscribe. So, I've signed up with www.Freelists.org. Very competent, very technical, and harder to use as an administrator. All they want from subscribers is their email address. On the other hand, in the process of subscribing someone, they send her/him 3-4 separate messages, some written in geek talk that will scare the naive. Oh well.
NOTE: You don't have to do anything. I've already moved the list from Topica to Freelists. But, if you want to unsubscribe or change your address, see the new instructions at the end of this issue, or go to our administrative form: http://www.hyperorg.com/forms/adminhome.html.
And thanks to Topica. I wish 'em well.
Small Pieces: The Drumbeat
This has been a fun week for Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web (my upcoming book) because the blurbs were due in. Since unlike reviews, blurbs are always positive, I got to live for a few days as if the book isn't going to destroy my career, reputation and ability to reproduce. I am forcing myself to overcome my carefully cultivated false modesty. Here is the blurb that's going on the cover:
It's amazing what you can accomplish through the judicious application of vodka and hookers.
Meanwhile, the book is available for pre-orders at Amazon where it currently resides at position #1,956,111, thus edging out such titles as Bryostephane Steereana : A Collection of Bryological Papers Presented to William Campbell Steere on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday (#2,101,446) and Lourdes Gomex-Franca's El Nino de Guano (#2,107,076), but outranked by the popular Burley Packwood's Bird turd peppers and other delights. Yeah, well, if I wanted to sell out like that whore Packwood, my book could be #1,467,919, too.
A few years ago, I saw a possum creeping along the sidewalk in the Boston semi-suburb where I live. I was thrilled beyond reason — although it's since occurred to me that it may really have been a large mother rat having nursing difficulties — not because I'm crazy about possums but because it means it's survived us. The wild has managed to find some unpaved cracks. I feel the same way about Google.
There are some sites that I love beyond reason because they have survived the commercial invasion of the Internet. They have maintained the spirit that transformed the Net from a fail-safe information interchange highway into the world of excess and generosity that makes it so appealing.
Google The Good is perhaps the most obvious of them all. Beyond its awesome technology — searching three billion pages in under a second strips the scales at which human understanding works — it over and over again reminds us why the Web is so cool. From the wry humor that imbues their voice to the constant innovation to the straightforward way they handle ads, Google is just damn cool.
While a thousand variations on enabling conversations occurred around it, UseNet has continued to meet the basic Net need to talk in a semi-persistent space. Thank goodness Google — yes, them again — picked up DejaNews' database so that the persistence of UseNet has gone from days to decades.
Every time I have a technical question, my faith in the Net is renewed. For example, at hundreds — or is it thousands? — of sites for programmers, there are code samples and discussion boards. Problems that ten years ago would have taken me weeks to solve I can now resolve in minutes by reading what someone much smarter than me has taken his or her time to write.
Arts & Letters Daily (www.aldaily.com) pulls together mainstream and obscure sources in a no- frills way. Aggregation without aggravation.
You undoubtedly have your own favorite sites of this sort. My point is not to tell you what's on my favorites list, fascinating though that would be. Rather, these are sites and services that, for me, go beyond useful. They stand for something more: like a possum on a suburban sidewalk, they tell us that despite our culture's best efforts, some of the original spirit will always survive.
I called RCN a year ago shortly after they installed my brand new cable modem account. "Look," I said to the customer service rep, "I know your support stops where your wire stops, but I just spent 5 hours trying to get my Linksys-based home network running again and I'm wondering if you can tell me if it can be done."
"Sure," said the rep, cheerily. "I have one at home."
"Great! Is there some trick to getting it to work?"
"Um, yes, but I can't talk with you about it."
"But there's some one thing I have to do?"
"Can't you just blurt it out?"
"These calls may be monitored."
"Ok, I understand that, and, for the record, you've been great and have followed the guidelines. Is there a Web page that talks about how to do it?"
"Not that I know of."
"Can you email me the trick?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to help you with this."
Obviously, this rep was going out on a limb just by saying that RCN cable can be home-networked via Linksys. It was RCN's fault that the call went wrong. Their message that "This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes" should say "We may listen in to make sure our reps aren't using their own judgment. Remember, here at RCN Customer Support, Job #1 is protecting ourselves."
The problem isn't just that companies are afraid of the legal implications of going beyond the smallest range of responses. It's that the legal system has scared the gray out of the system. Had the rep said, "Look, we don't officially support home networking and there's nothing in the RCN playbook about this, but I have one at home, and here's something you might try..." I would have understood — from the words and their context — that this isn't an official RCN tip. Our language accommodates conditionals and qualifiers. Our legal system doesn't.
Even better, I wish RCN had set up a customer-to-customer support board. I'd be happy to share the solution I eventually stumbled across through brownian motion: turn off PPPoE. And I bet the support guy would have already logged on from home with step-by-step instructions on how to get a home network going.
[PS: As of last week, RCN Support answers questions about home networking with the Linksys box.]
"Innovation" is one of those perpetually sunny words. You can't go wrong with innovation. An innovative company is a good one. The phrase "He's too innovative" has never been uttered. Even companies that are highly successful at what they do carry with them the impression of being boring if they are perceived as not being innovative.
But, of course, innovation — the generating of new ideas — is only so universally applauded because the term itself glosses over the fact that the vast majority of new ideas are bad. In fact, ideas form a predictable curve:
Given that the way to have a good idea is to have lots of bad ones (as someone said, and as was reported by Tom Kelley of IDEO, author of The Art of Innovation at a conference I was at recently), the question is what's the difference between a good idea and a bad one. Kelley gives one type of answer: a good idea is one that customers embrace. So, parade your ideas in front of them and see which ones they actually like.
But there's another type of answer. We can ask what ideas are good *at*. Some ideas are good, even though customers would hate them, because they lead to other ideas. Some ideas are good because they break a logjam of thought and enable a roomful of people to strike out in other directions. Some ideas are good because they are superb elaborations of a bad idea, and in thinking through how the idea went wrong, we identify an assumption that was stumping us. And some ideas are good because they're so obviously bad that they save you the bother of wandering down a dead end.
When a company claims to value innovation, the telling question is what they count as a good idea. If the single criterion is that the idea is embraced by customers, then the company doesn't really value innovation; it really only values success.
Ah, just in time to close out the old year I get this brilliant bit of marketing from FHM, one of the burgeoning NNN ("Naked, No Nipples") men's magazines:
You've been chosen as one of the select few to receive this exclusive invitation...
Why you? Because we've gotta pretty good hunch you're just the kind of man we're looking for.
Someone who loves beautiful women. Loves great clothes. Loves new gadgets. And loves getting the most out of life.
Why not come right out and say it: "Our research shows that you're a serious masturbator."
Sorry, pal, but if I want dirty pictures, I know a newsgroup or two that'll pitch in for free.
DPS-FTP is a multi-threaded FTP client for GNOME. It was originally called Kevlar FTP, since its interface was inspired by Bulletproof FTP, and Kevlar is bullet-proof. But DuPont actually sent me a notice telling me that I can't use their trademarked product names in my product name. They were generous enough to allow me to say that my product contains Kevlar, however. After explaining to them that, being software, my "product" does not contain Kevlar, and that I'm not making any money from the "product", they still would not let me use it. So, I renamed the program to DuPont Sucks FTP, or DPS-FTP.
[Thanks to T. Byfield for pointing this out on a mailing list.]
Recursive searching recursing
Doc Searls writes:
Dave points out how a Google search for "intelligent Weblogs" goes to an "interesting place." So I thought I'd search for "smart weblogs" and hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button. At first I though there was some kind of problem, but it turns out I really am lucky. Incredibly lucky, in fact. And I mean that literally.
Dave then blogs Doc's blog:
Doc discovered how insightful Google can be. Not!
I then go to Google and try Doc's search string — "smart weblogs" — to see what the fuss is about and hit the "I'm feeling lucky button." Where does it take me? Back to Doc's blog entry where he talks about how amusing it is if you enter "smart weblogs" at Google and hit the "I'm feeling lucky button."
Google the Good, Part Whatever
John Loverso has found an undocumented command that lets us ego-search UseNet while excluding our own messages:
Another correspondent on the mailing list where John produced this info, Anton Sherwood, refined it so that you don't exclude messages from other people named "Loverso":
loverso -author:[email protected]
Note to the Dumb: This works with names other than Loverso.
Dept. of Thanks a Whole Hell of a Lot
Noted: This explanation in Office XP (Standard) errs on the side of caution, skipping the part where it's actually helpful:
As Ring Lardner once wrote: "Shut up," he explained.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, today married anesthesiologist Neil Murray. The private Rowling issued no photos, but the happy couple were caught on film several months ago:
Immediately after this picture was taken, however, a gust of wind blew back the good doctor's hair:
For purposes of creepy comparison:
A Christmas for Everyone
Christmas is too cool a holiday to confine it to Christians. We ought to reformulate it as a secular two-day holiday, Dec. 24-25. On the 24th, we'd all decorate our homes with lights, reflect on peace, get together with the family, exchange presents, drink eggnog, kiss strangers under mistletoe, etc., simply because those are fun things to do near the Solstice. It'd have nothing to do with Jesus, mangers or myrhhhhh. Then, on the 25th, the Christians could celebrate Christ's birth by going to church, praying, and engaging in activities more spiritual than whining about misfired gifts before heading out to an afternoon movie. The rest of us would have a second day off.
So, my new bumpersticker is: "Let's get the Christ out of Christmas." In fact, let's call the new two day federal holiday "Mas." Got the Spanish connection and everything.
The Sentimental Existentialist
Being your completely predictable liberal, humanist type of person, my initial reaction to the article in the Boston Globe listing the notables who died in 2001 was: How terrible to have your life reduced to a single phrase! For example:
What rich lives are thus reduced to a short string of words. How sad! How wise and compassionate a person I must be to be bothered by this! Yada yada existential yada.
Of course, what's really bothering me is that I haven't done enough with my life to be able to reduce it to a four-word phrase. Yes, I'm suffering from a classic case of Obituary Envy.
The folks behind Media Grok have reemerged with Media Unspun. This is from their FAQ:
What is Media Unspun?
It's a new newsletter published by the team that produced Media Grok for the Industry Standard. Now, as then, our goal is to keep our readers up to date on the most important business news, show how different news outlets interpret the same information in different ways, and, if we're lucky, entertain you.
The first two articles in this weekly send are about the Democratic probe of Enron and the media's sudden enthusiasm for Nasdaq. In March, it will become a daily for-pay publication. I'll be subscribing.
Welcome back! You've been missed!
Tom Matrullo has a superb piece on journalism and weblogs in which he enlarges the context, opening — so to speak — a magnificent vista. (Tom is replying to a thread begun by the Weblog King of Questions, Mike Sanders.)
RageBoy, in an email, points to an entertaining book review by Jim Holt in the NY Times. The book, Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a 10-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, provides the context for a famous encounter between Wittgenstein and Karl Popper in 1946. The book sounds excellent, the review is very well done, and as Chris points out be sure not to miss the snarky last line.
Jack Vinson writes:
So, I was listening to our local college radio, where they talk too much and play good music. The particular duo I enjoy are Michael Stephen and Producer Nick. Michael has his own cheesy website, and they were joking that Producer Nick doesn't have his own site. As it turns out, there is a producernick.com. He is apparently a Berklee music student who really likes Britney Spears. Check out his "hit song": "I Want to Be Britney Spears' Boyfriend."
I found it quite amusing for the first 1.5 minutes and then it degenerates into a repetitive techno-groove (or whatever the kids today would call it). But I do enjoy people declaring their songs hits regardless of how many people have heard them. (Um, JOHO also is now a huge hit. Huge! Big pat on my own back!)
Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome recommends a compelling download: Anti Mosquitoes v1.10b, a 261K app that causes your sound card to emit a sound mosquitoes find repellent.[Insert your own joke here about whatever musical group you don't like.] Chris hasn't tried it and neither have I; as Chris says, this is "for those of you who've already downloaded everything."
Chris's blog is as spunky as he is. Gretchen Pirillo's blog is also worth reading; she and Chris are wife and husband.
From Ted Anderson, perhaps in response to our article on Andrew Clark's book Being There: Putting Mind, Brain and World Together:
Yesterday I found "Creation: Life and how to Make it" by Steve Grand at the library and started reading it. Steve is apparently the creator of a popular (at least in some circles?) game for growing critters, A-Life style. I know nothing about the game, but this book is about some philosophical thoughts he had along the way. Seems pretty good so far, but I'm only 50 pages or so into it. He is pretty definite that intelligence does not not come from knowledge representations.
 http://www.cyberlife-research.com/people/steve/creation.htm http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/GRACRE.html
Gary Stock writes, pointing us to an article called "50 things we'll be glad to see the back of in 2002" :
Half of these I just don't get.
Half of the remainder are not funny.
Half of the remainder are sort of funny.
Half of the remainder are really funny.
The remaining half-dozen are very, very funny.
Gary Stock, who really should start his own weblog, also refers us to the first review at Amazon of the children's classic, The Story of Ping:
"...As good as it is, The Story About Ping is not without its faults. There is no index, and though the ping(8) man pages cover the command line options well enough, some review of them seems to be in order. Likewise, in a book solely about Ping, I would have expected a more detailed overview of the ICMP packet structure..."
Gary points out that the review is not only helpful, it's durn popular: "4412 of 4511 people found the following review helpful..."
A former West Pointer who wants to remain anonymous writes our article praising the Point's collaborative feel:
Although I wasn't IN the Army, I was an Army brat for 21 years, and can support your findings on the team orientation. 'Lone wolves' (Patton & Macarthur being exceptions) are generally not rewarded. Smart leaders make decisions based on team input — I think we're seeing some reports of that on SF operations in Afghanistan, where rank isn't as important as function/skills/talents.
Someone who signs himself Tom Sawyer writes:
I read with interest your article re: West Point as I am an 1986 graduate and my wife is a 1988 graduate. I am occasionally disappointed with the reputation that West Point and the military gets because I sense that that reputation is more a result of Hollywood anachronism or lack of knowledge/exposure. When I was at West Point, I was amazed by the amount of respect that I got from those that outranked me and that experience continued in the active duty military. Rank definitely comes with perks but it also comes with responsibility, and that fact was never lost on me. For example, as an active duty infantry lieutenant, I always ate last when we were out in the field. That way if we ran out of food, I knew that my soldiers were well fed. As a leader, I was taught that the soldiers welfare always came first. While you make a good point in your message board about now extrapolating your West Point experience onto the entire Army, much of what happens at USMA carries through to the rest of the Army.
I'm assuming that Tom Sawyer is a pseudonym, although of course I could be wrong. After all, I met someone named Bonnie Lass last week. That's her real name. I'm less certain about a mailing I just received from the head of a site for West Point alumnae, cadets and their families. His name is Dick Breakiron.
John Carrow isn't afraid to use his real name however, and he's CIO of Unisys:
...As a 1966 grad of West Point, I can tell you that despite the issues of Viet Nam that divided the pacifists from the patriots in uniform, the style of cooperation and sharing of ideas to create a better outcome is fundamental to the West Point and military life. I do think that rank and position has been established for control, but ideas and collaboration are rank neutral.
Tom Armour (now there's a name for a West Pointer!) didn't much care for the Clinton speech I recommended:
So, you thought Clinton gave a hell of a speech the other day, eh? I read it...most of it anyway...and I think it was shallow and tedious.
This isn't: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28472-2001Dec26.html
The article Tom points to — "Finding the Koran's Truth" by Kevin Hasson — swings at relativists: "The truth about man is that man is born to seek freely the truth about God. It is this truth — and not some metaphysic of doubt — that bestows on us the dignity that guarantees our freedom."
But this glides over the hard part: Either Jesus is the Messiah or he isn't. Either the way to God is through Jesus alone or it isn't. Either non-Christians roast in hell or we don't. One can say "The truth about man is that man is born to seek freely the truth about God" as loudly as one wants. And I won't argue with it. But when the modernist chest-beating is done and we're feeling all dignified and everything, we then face the question: So, what is this truth I've heard so much about? When two religions freely embrace *different* truths about God, what do we do? Do we say that one group is wrong and thus follows a lesser religion, one that keeps its people from seeing the light that leads to goodness and eternal life, and maybe a jihad or a crusade would really be in the best interest of the heathens who don't even know they need to freely embrace the true truth?
This is obviously a hugely hard problem. But the Post article buries the problem by going up a level where religions can seem to agree on a meta-truth: "Well, at least we all agree that humans are on a spiritual quest." Ok, but that isn't sufficient to enable us to share the planet if religions are universalist, that is, if they claim to know truths that hold for all humans... and if you disagree, then you're wrong, unenlightened, heathen, and doomed.
I am now officially over my head, but let me point to what I understand to be the Jew's way out of this dilemma. (I am not religious. My wife is orthodox.) First, rather than talking about relativism, which in most formulations works out to conflating truth with belief, Jews talk about revelation as an historical event granted to particular people at particular times: God revealed Himself one way to the Jews at Sinai and in another way to the Christians through the life of Jesus. (Yeah, I know there were no Christians at the time.) Second, we treat revelation as a process: revealed texts cannot be understood without disputatious human interpretation.
This allows each religion its own views without reducing any to mere belief (for the views are based on divine revelation). Of course, since it is monotheistic, it doesn't permit there to be contradictory revelations: If a religion comes along with commandments that say that it's good to rip the hearts out of the innocent, I suppose Jews would have to claim that it's based on a spurious revelation. But the optimistic claim is that the world's true religions are compatible ... if they would drop their universalist claims.
[Ten points extra if you can spot where I beg the question in that final paragraph.]
Amos doesn't like the following bit from a previous issue:
In a webby world — a "hyperlinked organization", if you will — teams are self-organizing. People form a team by pulling together the people they respect and like to work with, the org chart be damned. This helps resolve the contradiction in two ways. First, hyperlinked teams form among like-minded people — for better or worse. Thus, the strong beliefs of individuals are likely to be shared. Second, groups form among people who already like and trust one another — for better or worse. Thus, disagreements don't have to escalate to the "my way or the highway point.
How damned boring and uncreative that the resolution to the contradiction is getting folks together who already think alike. Why get them together — they already know the answer! And this doesn't help at all the REAL issue of working on teams where you've got to deal with people you don't like and don't agree with and don't respect, and this is not just a matter of knee-jerk slamming of hierarchical top-down imposition that doesn't get It. (God, whatever It is...).
As you said further on in your missive, Bill Clinton said it better than I can:
"Don't you think it's interesting that in the most modern of ages, the biggest problem is the oldest problem of human society - the fear of the other. And how quickly fear leads to distrust, to hatred, to dehumanisation, to death."
Touting these hyperlinked organizations they way you have only promotes isolation and does nothing to address this fear of others. In fact, it reinforces behavior that engenders the fear.
I take issue with the "only" in Amos' last sentence. My use of the phrase "for better or worse" was intended to recognize that there are drawbacks to letting teams self-organize. That's something teams need to deal with it. (I.e., Amos is right.)
Peter Merholz, writer of the damn fine peterme blog, points us to a better-than-mine discussion of the question of teams vs. individuals, and then throws in a few more excellent links:
So, a couple of your pieces lead me to send you some links of which you're likely already aware, but p'raps are not...
TEAMS VS. INDIVIDUALS I don't know if you read Phil Agre's Red Rock Eater, but he's been talking up a talk given at the last P2P conference by Nelson Minar: http://www.nelson.monkey.org/nelson-talks/oreilly-centralization/ that begins to move away from the ideological extremism of centralization-bad/decentralization-good.
I don't know if you're familiar with a fellow NPR contributor, Geoffrey Nunberg, who does short snippets for Fresh Air on the current state of language. http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~nunberg/Nunberg.html
He's recently done a piece on blogging: http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~nunberg/blog.html (sadly, not giving me credit for coining the term... sigh) and has done a piece on the word "like," that your "so," piece reminded me of http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~nunberg/like.html
Craig Allen comments our piece on the use of So as a way to start an oral discourse:
...always though the 'so' verbal tic was a NYC Jewish cultural artifact that I picked up back in the 70s when I lived in Park Slope.
I think that must have been the translation of "Nu."
An anonymous commenter weighs in on our article about the Web being horizonal, whatever the hell that means:
ya know, i completely agree with them horizontal stuff, but feel strongly that it should be "a Hegelian."
Are you sure you want to raise this issue? This is exactly how the Crimean War started.
But Anonymous is beaten by a guy from New Zealand who wins the Nitpick of the Month award:
Just a note about the Strongest possible terms online article - the 100 families ""in New Zealand"" are actually in South Africa - http://www.news24.co.za/News24/Letters/0,1113,2-122_1094392,00.html
Ah, are you sure you're not from New OverZealand?
I was on the road, making the rounds of local venture capitalists, helping to get a start-up funded by saying all the right things ... you know, the things VC's love to hear:
"There's no marketing slide in this PowerPoint presentation because the product is viral. It sells itself."
"This'll be the new new thing."
"The product will be really simple for mom and pop to understand. It just requires a paradigm shift."
"As this 2x2 shows, we have no competition."
"The death of dot coms has been greatly exaggerated."
"It's a billion-dollar market. All we have to do is get 1% of the market."
"People are just waiting the chance to switch office application suites. Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, Excel ... they're so yesterday."
"Then the network effect kicks in!"
"Good point, with a free product there's no revenue. But if you amass the names of millions of visitors and track their behavior on your site, that's gotta be worth millions to marketers!"
"Microsoft's never been good at this type of software."
"Our success in the market will be our defense against Microsoft."
"Microsoft is too focused elsewhere to notice this market ... and by the time we penetrate it, it'll be too late."
"Could you please hold your comments? The slide isn't done animating."
Your own contributions would be appreciated.
Israel Orange responds to our request for embarrassingly pointless corporate Flash greeting cards:
While hunting down some drivers for a friend's flaky hardware wandered onto NEC's website a few days ago, and the flash animation they threw at me struck me as "tedious, pretentious, empty and boring" as you say. Also completely unbearable and totally hideous and all kinds of other negative appellations. My god. They truly and really oughtta shoot the suit that thought this was a good idea. I volunteer. Meantime, check it out: http://www1.nec-online.com/NEC_Computer/NEC/FR/card/devnec.htm
Wow, that's some bad corporate shite! It looks like it was assembled out of clip art using the My First Flash kit.
And speaking of hastily assembled shite, it looks like it's time to close another issue. But remember, the issue continues, with new postings every day, at my web log: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger. As they might say on a cutey-pootey corporate Flash holiday card: Dew Drop Inn ... to hear the Dude Rappin'? [Please say this aloud until you discover how durn clever it is.]
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